Argentina’s Biggest Rock Star Is a Rapper

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“I’m a Hitboy, I’m a Hitboy/ I’m ready to be a millionaire/ No matter how hard they try they can’t stop us.” The chorus to Duki’s hit 2019 Khea collab (aptly titled “Hitboy”) is quintessential trap braggadocio, the kind of discourse he features in dozens of songs, where he routinely talks about haters, money, women, coming from nothing and taking care of his own.
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It may be familiar rhetoric in the U.S. trap world, but in Argentina — which for decades was the land of rock en español, birthing a global Argentine rock explosion — Duki’s message was initially looked down upon as a weird, subpar oddity.
Turns out it was the future.
Duki performs at Buenos Aires River Stadium on Dec. 3, 2023. DALE PLAY @livedaleplay/GUIDO ADLER @adlerguido
Today, at 27 years old, Duki is the clear leader of Argentina’s exploding rap and trap movement, espousing a philosophy of aspiration and collaboration that has struck a major chord with a young fanbase.
On December 3 and 4, that generation came out in masse to see Duki perform at Buenos Aires’ fabled River Stadium, where he sold over 140,000 tickets across both nights — becoming the first urban artist ever to sell out Argentina’s biggest stadium, not once, but twice.
The import of the moment was not lost on either Duki (real name Mauro Ezequiel Lombardo), or the more than a dozen guest artists — all young Argentines — who came on as guests, including his girlfriend, pop star Emilia Mernes, Nicki Nicole, Khea and global DJ Bizarrap, all Duki proteges who repeatedly referred to him as the leader of Argentina’s urban movement.
It goes beyond just numbers, though. With not just his music, but also his philosophy of life and his motivational demeanor, Duki has been able to harness the attention of a generation that previously didn’t have a voice or a role model, much like reggaetón did in Puerto Rico. The difference is, Duki’s approach is multi-generational and multi-genre: His shows had children and families in attendance, in addition to his core audience of both males and females between the ages of 15 and 25.
The appeal was best voiced by rapper YSY A, part of Duki’s former trap trio Modo Diablo, who came back together for a couple of songs on Saturday night.
“Thank you for being the biggest representative in the country for these kids who have dreams, who want to live bigger, and you’re their greatest point of reference,” said YSY A in a particularly emotional moment. “You’re the biggest representative for dreamers, and the first in our generation to fill the biggest stadium in Argentina.”
Duki started his career doing rap battles in the streets, “when no one believed in this s–t,” he said in one of many spoken interludes during the show, in which he exhorted fans to believe in themselves and work hard to achieve their dreams. In his early days, he caught the attention of Fede Lauria, the founder and owner of Dale Play, a major Argentine concert promoter. Lauria saw enough potential in Duki and the artists around him that in 2020 he launched Dale Play Records precisely as an incubator for that talent. Today, Dale Play’s roster includes global stars Bizarrap and Nicki Nicole.
But it all started with Duki — who is intent on supporting other emerging Argentine talent, much like Puerto Rico and Colombia’s urban scene did in their beginnings.
The difference, however, is the message and the music. Duki’s show was surprisingly musical for an urban performance: He plays roughly half of his set backed by a live rock band that offers great counterpoint to his raps. The set design is stunning and otherworldly, and instrumental interludes were composed by Oscar winner Gustavo Santaolalla. All vocals, including various instances of three-part harmony, were live. In that regard, Duki’s style does give a nod to his country’s tradition of rock and elevated music.
The second major differentiator is the messge. Duki doesn’t see he himself just as an artist but as a messenger of hope and goodness. Throughout the show, he interrupted songs midway to make sure people in the pit were safe or could be escorted out if they seemed in distress. And he also spoke frequently about hope and dreams — and always, about the future of a generation for which he feels personally responsible.
“Thank you for living up to my code of values,” he said at one point. “I know you respect me, and that’s why I assume fame in the way I do. If I’m here performing tonight, it’s because of you.”
Up next for Duki is playing Madrid’s Bernabéu stadium this summer, with a 65,000 seat capacity. It will be the first time an Argentine urban act has sold out the venue.
Leila Cobo is Billboard’s Chief Content officer for Latin/Español and the author of Decoding Despacito: A History Of Latin Music’s Greatest Hits.

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